In a word: autochthonous

May 08, 2012|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a moderately obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar — another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary. This week's word:

AUTOCHTHONOUS

That Greek root autos, "self," has gotten around. An automobile is a vehicle you drive yourself. Autonomy is self-government or independence. Autarchy is a policy of self-sufficiency. An autodidact is a self-taught person.

And if your self is native to its place, you are autochthonous (pronounced oh-TOK-thuh-nus). An autochthon in ecology is a plant or animal native to its habitat, indigenous. In human terms, a native or aborigine. In geology, a rock formation that originated where it is found and has not been displaced. In disease, contracted where it is reported. The word comes from auto (of course) and khthon, "earth."

Example: From Dwight Macdonald's Against the American Grain: "Folk art grew mainly from below; an autochthonous product shaped by the people to fit their own needs."


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